The Leadership Curse

Along with encouraging the development of good leadership habits, it’s also my job to shine a light on those debilitating habits which can effectively sabotage our leadership opportunities. One such stumbling block I call the “leadership curse” — you know, the use of profanity.

Okay, before I start sounding holier than thou, I’ll go ahead and confess. I learned to “cuss” early on. Fifth grade. My bad language was certainly not condoned by my parents, teachers or coaches. But that didn’t stop me.

The act of cursing seemed to make me feel more grown up, more in control, more of a man. And what harm is there in it, I thought? It’s just words. Besides, wasn’t it my First Amendment right? Freedom of speech and all!

Over time, I became bolder in my use of profanity. And, predictably, my cursing became a habit — a behavior requiring little, if any, conscious thought.

Upon beginning my career as a young supervisor, I continued cursing — even more freely, believing my use of “shop talk” actually helped me be a more emphatic communicator and by extension, a better leader. But I eventually learned that others saw it differently when a trusted mentor pulled me aside and provided some valuable advice.


The Costs of Offensive Language

“Phil, I’ve been watching you,” he said. “There’s no question you possess great leadership potential. It’s really easy to imagine great opportunities headed your way in the future.

“But,” he continued, “there is one thing that concerns me.

“Phil, do you realize — or even care — that your language is offensive to people? Oh, not everyone, of course.

“But with some you’re simply digging yourself a hole — causing yourself unnecessary problems. The fact is, you‘re losing their respect.

“Is that what you’re really all about?”

His words embarrassed and humbled me. And the worst part? I knew he was right.


How Do You React to the Leadership Curse?

Today I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to consider the effects of the “leadership curse.” Keep in mind, the leadership curse is not about cursing at all. The leadership curse is about not recognizing and acknowledging the tremendous effect a leader’s words and actions have on others.

Can you identify any leadership relationships that are made more difficult because of the effects of profanity, foul language or crude talk?

If this isn’t a stumbling block for you, what is your reaction to or opinion of those leaders who routinely use offensive language?


Additional Resources



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The 6 Levels of Empowerment

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The 6 Levels of Empowerment